Business Solutions: Working Parents, Summer, and Special Needs Kids

Spring has arrived and the end of the school year is within sight.  Most kids are counting down the days while most working parents are breaking a sweat trying to cobble together two-plus months of camps, vacations, occasional day-trips, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice.  Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the challenges intensify considerably.

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:

FLEXIBILITY RULES

1. Children have needs over the summer, and without school providing a predictable daily schedule, parents struggle.  Add a child with autism or other special needs, and the challenges intensify.  Some children qualify for Extended School Year services, yet they're typically less than a full-day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September. 

SOLUTION:  Provide flexible work hours if not already offered, offer parents remote work opportunities, and allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days.  And be flexible with last-minute and crisis needs that arise.  If your parental leave policies need evaluation, now is the time to do it.  Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents.

PRIVACY HELPS

2. Children with special needs who are attending camp and other summer programs often have needs that require parent assistance.  And it's not the "I forgot my swimsuit" type of need either.  Therapies, tutoring, and other supports continue throughout the summer, putting extra pressure on already stressed parents with exceptional caregiving responsibilities when it comes to juggling work, appointments, transportation and more.

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SOLUTION:  Allow parents access to a specially-designated office or private space for them to make telephone calls, schedule a video conference with camp personnel or support staff, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed.  It can reduce time away from the office and provides employees with the privacy they need.  Plus, it demonstrates that the company understands the stressors involved with exceptional caregiving responsibilities, not only on a daily basis but also during the challenging summer months as well.

SUPPORTS MATTER

3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or similar needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult to achieve and maintain.  Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly.  A particular camp may not work.  A childcare provider may leave.  A therapist may request additional evaluations.  These situations mean that employees need time and resources to help. 

SOLUTION:  Communicate to all employees that their EAP is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a last-minute child care provider or addressing stress-related issues.  Providing employees with access to resources to help them manage their children’s needs as well as their own work/life issues is key to employee retention.  And if employee assistance or work/life programs or services are not yet available, now is the time to start.

One of the things we consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, whether managing their children's needs or understanding how to navigate through school.  And these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months as planning for September begins well before this school year ends. 

Employers play a pivotal role, not only in creating family-friendly workplaces, but in recognizing that many working parents have needs that are not so apparent...or even discussed, and that go way beyond infancy.  Offering flexibility and supports to parents throughout the year, especially over the summer months, can make all the difference in helping top performing employees remain on the job.

The Real Truth About Parental Leave

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I can't say enough about all the recent attention regarding parental leave and the companies expanding opportunities for new mothers and fathers to spend critical time with their newborns. 

Recognizing the importance of new parents being able to bond with their children speaks volumes...about the fact that families matter in our society and that companies are focusing on establishing family-friendly cultures.  All good stuff (and smart business) and steps that are long overdue, a comment I can comfortably make having been in the work/life arena since the late 90s and can see where progress has been made.

And while more companies are now providing paid parental leave, a critically important workplace benefit, the truth is that there are millions of working parents whose parental leave needs are not being met.  Or even addressed.  Those with elementary-aged, teens, or college-aged children.  And while this isn't meant to be a comparison, anyone who thinks managing a child during infancy is the same as raising a child or teen struggling in school or life isn't looking at parenting and the needs of working parents realistically.  Each age and stage has its challenges and for many parents, sleepless nights and gray hair come with it.  But opening the lens -- and discussion -- to the truth means recognizing that the needs of working parents don't stop at several months.  Or at age 5.

There is nothing more important than establishing a solid foundation for a parent and child during the early years.  I could barely stand to leave my child as a newborn or toddler myself, and I was self-employed at the time so didn't have the restrictions and limitations that many parents face.  No question...these were glorious years, yet we cannot be short-sighted nor can we forget that babies and toddlers grows into children and young adults whose needs become as complex as they are.

As every parent will tell you, parenting is lifelong and the challenges intensify as our children get older.  The issues facing kids today are nothing like they were when we were growing up, and this requires parents to be more...involved, engaged, vigilant, accessible...present.  All we need to do is look at the numbers of 8, 15 and 22-year-olds struggling with autism, depression, ADHD, cyberbullying, anxiety and more, and the facts are clear.

I applaud every company moving toward or already providing paid parental leave.  And those offering on-site childcare, maternity massages, lactation rooms, and more are surely adding to supports being provided.  Yet companies need to recognize that parenting and the needs of working parents are for many years vs. months or a few short years.  Unless and until this lens opens all the way, we're only seeing a small part of a much larger picture and are sorely missing the mark.  The truth is that parental leave for new parents is important.  For veteran parents, it's essential.

It's True...Working Women Are Mothers Too

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you're a woman who works outside of the home and a mother as well, you get it in spades.  If not, it's time to. 

Women are more than 50% of the workforce.  And many of these same women are also mothers, raising children.  Problem is, the business world doesn't seem to fully understand what this means.  Yet.

There are some areas where businesses are starting to listen and beginning to understand -- wage equality, paid family leave, and the push for more women in leadership positions.  All important issues, not only for women but for our society as a whole.  

And most of us would agree that work/life issues as they impact working mothers (and fathers) are "at the table" today in many business discussions.  Steps forward.  Yet particularly for working mothers, the steps aren't far enough. 

The realities are that millions of working mothers are unable to achieve and maintain any modicum of work flexibility and many fail to take or use their full maternity leave.  Many are being challenged in terms of their commitment to their job when a need arises regarding their children (and make no mistake about it...these "needs" continue for 21+ years).  And still others - and there are more than is known - are being forced, often in subtle but powerful ways, to choose between their careers/jobs and being a parent. 

I don't know anyone who would want to face these kinds of choices.

Let's think about a few things:

Do companies truly believe that it's still okay, in 2018, for such struggles to exist for working mothers?   Would those in senior leadership accept the same for their wives, daughters, or granddaughters?  And yes, I realize that women can be the ones exerting this pressure too.

Do companies think choosing motherhood means that their education and experience becomes an afterthought or that the time they've spent investing in and creating their careers suddenly has no meaning?  Or value?

Do companies not understand the big picture and think that the time (measured in years) working mothers spend raising and instilling values and qualities in their children - the same ones companies want in their future employees ... things like integrity, honesty, respect and kindness - happens in only a brief few months?  Or by age 5?

There are firms developing career reentry initiatives to help working mothers return to the workforce after spending "x" number of years raising their children.  And recommendations are now seeing the light of day for how to address a gap in a resume when it relates to parenting.   Why is stating that raising the next generation is something to be ashamed of, to excuse, or to hide?  Since when did raising a child equate to something to apologize for?  What messages are we giving and being forced to accept? 

Working women who are mothers deserve to have their abilities and their needs supported, both as parents and employees.  And this happens when "family-friendly" companies as defined by their culture and behaviors up and down the organization resonate with every working mother no matter their position, title or role.  Policies are great, but don't replace attitudes and actions.

For those companies truly embracing working mothers and not asking or expecting an explanation or apology about their life choices or how they've spent or spend their time, hats off.  And for those who aren't there yet, it's okay...we aren't going anywhere and our voices will continue to be heard.

 

The Strain Of Parenting A Child With Special Needs

It may seem obvious that parenting a child with special needs requires more - more time, more patience...just more.  And you'd be right.  It does.  Yet like many children whose needs may be hidden from view, so are the realities facing parents when caring for their child's special needs overtakes all else.

A parent shared with me that her marriage was ending.  The strain of what is often referred to as "exceptional caregiving" tore the fabric of their marriage beyond repair.  The attention their child needed was unrelenting, and attempts to achieve any sense of marital balance was intensified by extended family and friends not understanding their realities.  Battling for their child became all-encompassing, and there was nothing left for them as a couple.

The Realities

While I'd like to say this story is rare, it's not.  Time and time again, parents have shared that they thought their partnership was strong until exceptional caregiving became the central role in their lives.  Maybe there were some small cracks developing early on, but they refused to believe that they couldn't withstand the strain. 

When this new "world order" becomes the daily reality, even the strongest husband and wife can sometimes cope no longer.  It's a complex emotional landscape - denial, remorse, fear, guilt, uncertainty, feelings of helplessness, lost dreams, and even those thoughts that they dare never say.  Why me and why us.

Life Through A New Lens

The entire work and family picture takes on new meaning when a child with autism, ADHD, or mental health issues, for example, becomes the focus... 

  • Career changes.  One parent may no longer be able to work.  A client meeting and an urgent call from school collide, creating work/life conflicts.

  • Financial pressures.  Paying for mounting expenses - often hundreds or thousands of dollars a month - when family income may be halved or when expenses stretch resources to the limit. 

  • Family and siblings.  Balancing the child's continuous needs while tending to other children in the family and handling family questions and comments.

  • "Alone time."  Securing a babysitter or caregiver (including loving grandparents) who understand and can provide non-judgmental assistance is often difficult at best.

Day trips need considerable preparation.

Vacations require extensive planning and tension often results.

Communication issues emerge and quality "couple time" can be rare at best.

Priorities shift.  Plans ended.  The partnership crumbles.

It's no surprise that holding everything together becomes a herculean task, one that not every parent can manage without considerable support and even then, it may become impossible.

Warriors

Every parent parents differently.  And when a child with special needs becomes the cog in the family wheel, parents become warriors, often waging the battle at different levels and in different ways.  Sometimes, even the most valiant parent finds that they can battle no longer.  Losing themselves in the process is commonplace.  Not by design, but by situation.

When a marriage ends, the reality is that each parent must still play a pivotal role - or combination of roles - to help their child.  Case manager, home therapist, scheduler, advocate, first responder.  The assignment of roles may change, but the importance of each parent to the whole does not.

Your efforts and sacrifices, both individually and as parents, matter.  You remain Mom and Dad, needing to work together to help your child.  The strain on a marriage and the emotional fallout for each parent is very real.  And painful.  Yet don't lose sight of all you have done and are continuing to do to help your child move ahead.  For while your struggles like those of your child may be hidden, your rewards most certainly are not.

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Villanova's Victory and One Amazing Mother

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

There's so much to be said about Villanova's incredible victory last night.  I've never quite seen teamwork like this before.   And with each replay of those final seconds (which I watched until 1:00 in the morning), you simply can't help but smile and rejoice in their victory.

These amazing young men could teach companies a thing or two about what true collaboration looks like.  About what the word "team" mean.  About how the success of the group hinges on allowing -- and encouraging -- others to shine.  This is a business case study waiting to happen.

Yet there's something more about Villanova's victory that hits the heart.  It's that the amazing shot made by Kris Jenkins makes this story -- his story -- one for the ages.

They say that behind every man is a strong woman, and if ever there was one, it's his mother.  This woman personifies the definition of the word "selfless," making a life-changing decision that gave her son an opportunity for a better life.   

Yes, she taught him basketball at a young age and these early skills surely helped over the years, yet most parents try to impart knowledge in their children.   But when she saw that life was creating difficulties for her son, she opened her arms and asked another family to raise him so he could have a shot.  At life.

Can you imagine?  Having such love for your child that you decide that giving him to another family would be in his best interest.  Talk about strength of character and fortitude.

Every parent makes sacrifices for their children...it comes with the role.  Yet a sacrifice like this goes beyond.

The pride we all feel, including those of us in Philadelphia area, at what these amazing young men accomplished is palpable.  And what can't be forgotten is that behind each of these students are parents who gave their children the chance to succeed in ways that will carry them for the rest of their lives.

In the afterglow of this victory, admiration for Kris Jenkins' mother and the family that welcomed this young man into their lives is really the story behind the story.  Such generosity of heart changed this young man's life.  And everyone who surrounded him.

So congratulations to an amazing team of young men...and to one mother whose devotion to and love for her son has to have our utmost respect and admiration.

Brussels Attacks and Our Children

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

What do we tell our children about the Brussels attacks?

How do we explain to them, whether they're 8 or 15, what happened?  Again.

How do we keep our fears in check when they're there...right at the surface?

We know that in today's world of social media and a 24/7 news cycle, we can't shield them from things like this.  Sure, we try... overseeing their online activities, vetting their friends, making sure they're checking in with us and visa versa.  And most of the time, we do a pretty good job of it.  And then another day of senseless attacks happens and then what?

We learn that innocent people a world away have been hurt.  We feel a sense of unease and want our children near.  We hear "thoughts and prayers" one more time while we feel sorrow for the families whose lives have been shattered on another typical morning.  Like our typical mornings.  We again hear it's a "dark day" when we're trying to keep our children in the light.

What do we tell our children when we don't even know what to tell ourselves?

How do we reassure them that they're safe? 

To most of our children, Paris and Brussels are a world away.  San Bernadino is not. 

We do our best to handle our own daily struggles and issues, yet how can we not worry about the immediate and longer-term impact all of this is having on our children?  Their sense of security.  Their mental health.  Their ability to grasp such uncertainty.

So I ask again...what do we tell them?

Worrying...What Parents Do

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I often find myself thinking back to when my child was a newborn. How could such a tiny human being possibly be kept safe and how could I make sure of it.  Such an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, mine and his.  And the worrying began.

I think back to driving 45 vs. 60 mph as I would look in the rearview mirror at him in his car seat.  Cradling his head when the wind was blowing after he would leap into my arms to get out of the cold.  Watching him on his bike without training wheels and hoping for no broken bones.  Advocating for him in school when other kids thought bullying was fun.

I remember late nights - even when he was a teen - as I would check on him sleeping, feeling that all was right in the world because he was home, in his bed, and safe.  I wondered how I could safely carry him through a world that seemed poised to challenge his gentle nature and innocence.  I was intent on keeping him safe.  No matter what.  

But the world was bigger than I was and life took hold.  The school years went by and with the arrival of college came the reality that my ability to protect him had just about slipped away.  Only thing was, my worries had not.  If anything, they were greater. 

Incidents on college campuses, not knowing his whereabouts, being unable to reach him via text.  Yes, of course I know it's part of the transition to young adulthood and no, I wasn't sitting by the door biting my nails, but my worries were palpable.  And some for good reason.  I really thought it would get easier when he got older, but I was wrong. 

The worries change as our children do.  First, it's school, friends, and camp that may worry us.  Then it's social media, dating risks, and mental health issues that do worry us.  And then it becomes the unknown and those things we hope never happen that most definitely worry us.  Truth is, the worrying never ends.  We may not wear it on our face every day, but it's there, right behind the smile.

We send our children out in the world to do what we've encouraged them to do...learn, explore, and experience.  We urge them to be smart, safe, and aware. We give them roots, as the saying goes, and also wings, hoping our safety net is positioned right beneath them at just the right place and moment should something happen.  But often it's not.  And then, another tragedy occurs and if you're anything like me, all your strategies of parenting a young adult fly right out the window and you want your child home.  In footy pajamas.  In their bed.  Safe.  No matter their age.

It's easy for some to say, "They're adults now" or "Your job is done," yet the truth is, for most parents, the worrying never ends.  Whether they're a mile away or 10 states away.  If only I could figure out how to replace the safety net with that protective bubble I used to think about so many years ago...

Independence...A Day Or A Life

July 4th...a day commemorating our independence.  Most of us never think about our independence because we typically just make our own choices and do as we please.  We take for granted that we can go here and there, do this and that ... all at will. But if you think about the definition of independence as it applies to children with autism and other diagnoses  - not relying on another or others for aid or support - the word suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.   And while independence is defined differently for every child, the process of working toward this goal remains the same.  It's called hard work, never saying quit, and keeping your eyes firmly on the prize.

Not every child will reach the plateau of total independence (true for children without a diagnosis as well).  But, do you know how many children have been - and still are - thought to lack the ability to *be* independent at any level because of an obstacle and barrier (i.e. their diagnosis) that others believe precludes achieving this goal?  And do you know how many have proven these people wrong?

For many, independence is celebrated as a day with family barbeques and fireworks.  For many others, it's a life goal that often starts in childhood, continuing through adolescence and right into young adulthood.  It's what parents "in the trenches" are fighting for every day, refusing to relent to the labels or naysayers who seem to know what the future holds.  They don't.

For the millions of children (and their parents) who are striving to achieve the milestone of independence, think of tomorrow as a celebration of you and everything you're working so hard to achieve.  Nothing worth achieving comes without true effort and you continuously show the rest of the world what this is truly all about.

Parents, Children, Autism, and Unconditional Love

Let me start by saying that I'm not a psychologist, sociologist, or expert on love.  I am, however, a parent and as such, have filled these roles and many more in the two decades since I went from being "me" to "we." Andrew Solomon's recently posted TED talk - "Love, no matter what" on parenting, children, differences, and unconditional love struck a number of chords.  How we need to embrace our children and their differences and how unconditional love means doing just this.  He spoke of the changes we as a society have undergone in terms of understanding and accepting our gay children, our children with Down's Syndrome, and our children with other differences and disabilities.  And while I agreed with much of his talk, there were two points of fairly strong disagreement, one of which follows.

Solomon stated that parents of children with autism who wish that their children did not have this diagnosis somehow fail the litmus test of unconditional love.  What?  Parents of autistic children don't love their children unconditionally?  Say it wasn't what he said.  But it was.

On my soapbox I climb once again to say... No parents understand the definition of unconditional love like parents of children with autism.

I don't need to revisit again what I've expressed so many times before...the hours, sacrifices, work/life conflicts, financial strain, family upheaval...all the things that define parenting children, teens, and young adults in a world where they struggle at best to meet its demands.  But I do need to ensure that anyone who may not understand why parents would "wish" their children did not have this diagnosis, understands it now.

Parents of autistic children see their children's struggles every day in ways that clinicians, teachers, and others cannot.  They see them from sunrise to sunset.  They know that the weather, clothing, food, sounds, movement, people, activities, environments, and a host of other day-to-day situations create chaos for their children.  Does anyone think these parents may "wish" this wasn't the case for their children?  Does anyone think these parents may "wish" their children had friends?  Could speak?  Could drive?  Live independently?  Work?

If parents of children with autism wish anything, it's that their children did not have these struggles or needs.  They wish for anything - something - to lessen their children's pain.  But the wishing has nothing whatsoever to do with love.  And certainly not unconditional love.  Parents of children with autism *define* unconditional love and epitomize what this truly means.  They could also teach a lesson or two to many other parents as well.

We all wish for things.   For life to be easier.  For money to be more.  For family to be well.  And yes, parents of children with autism do wish for things too.  That their 4th Grader would be invited to a classmate's birthday party.  That their 8th Grader would be asked to be in the science club.  That their 12th Grader would be able to attend college.  But the one wish they don't have is wishing that their children were different so their love for them would then be without restrictions or caveats.

It's this type of unconditional love that keeps parents of children with autism forging ahead, plowing through the difficulties, never taking "no" for an answer, exploring supports wide and far.  If wishing comes into play here at all, it's that these parents wish that their children may have every opportunity to live a life where *their* wishes can come true.  And their shot at doing so rests firmly on the shoulders of their parents who love them unconditionally.

When One Small Step Is Anything But Small

People tend to believe that it's the big things in life that have the most significance, but I don't necessarily agree.  Small things often make the greatest impact, and one group of people know exactly what I mean. If you're the parent of a typical child, there are so many "firsts" and accomplishments that the small steps often get lost in the shuffle.  Not so for parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder.  For these parents, life is all about watching for the smallest possible step.  About knowing the minutes, days, and months of effort that went into making this step happen.  It's often only those closest to the child who can understand and appreciate what this is all about.

Ever sit and watch a flower bloom?  You rarely see anything, but look away for a day and the changes are often amazing.  Parents of children with autism spend much of their lives closely watching for that bloom to happen ... for that "one thing", that small step that will show them that their child is learning to speak, respond, play, understand.  And they see it when it happens.

This past week, I spoke with a parent who was sharing how her child was finally able to tolerate something that had been - up to that point - intolerable.  For most parents, this would have been seen as a "get over it" moment, but not for this parent.  It was a huge obstacle that impacted her child's ability to function and the family's ability to function as well.  Anyone who would say that a small step isn't a major milestone is someone whose life hasn't been touched by autism.

Think about it this way...most people stand back and look at life like admiring a huge mural painted on the side of a building.  But for parents of children with autism, they're standing right up close, seeing every single stroke of the brush.  When your child struggles on a daily basis in a world that assaults their senses and challenges their abilities, every step forward is anything but small.  These parents know what they're looking for and even if they don't, they still see when something changes or some progress is made.  That's because they're always looking and hoping for it.

That infamous line..."One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" are words that ring true for each and every parent of a child with autism.  Every small step their child makes is a leap indeed, for it paves the way for a future of possibilities.  And possibility is that wonderful thing that keeps parents moving forward.

Life is about giving and receiving and I don't know any single group of individuals who give more than parents of children with autism.  So isn't it wonderful that one of the things they receive is the ability to see these small steps happen right before their eyes?  Whoever said that you can't watch a flower bloom never knew what they were looking for.

Carry You...

Many years ago, when my son wanted me to carry him, he would say, "Carry you?" and nothing more.  It was such a simple phrase yet little did I know the impact it would have so many years later. Today, after speaking with several parents whose children are really struggling, those two little words came to me as if my son had said them yesterday.   I'm not sure what triggered that memory, but it suddenly resonated with me differently.  As parents, we all carry our children yet it typically ends when they are either too heavy or too large to lift.  Not for parents of children with special needs.  The carrying continues for years and sometimes, for a lifetime.

These parents have the job of lifting their children and keeping them hoisted high above their heads at all costs.  And while their children need their strength to move forward, who lifts the parents?  Even the strongest parents find that sometimes, the weight is just too much.

As is the case with so many parents, one of them is completely exhausted...no fried, from months and months of endless struggle.  With school.  With family.  And yes, with their child as well.  From home to school and back again, the issues have continued mounting with little chance to catch a breath no less take a shower.  And this is on top of a full-time job that was asking for more yet giving less.

During our conversation, I told this parent that their job was to "carry you" -- meaning their child -- but that they also needed to be carried.  By a spouse, a parent, a friend -- by anyone able and willing to lift them, even briefly, so they can regain their strength to continue their march ahead.  Many parents never ask to be carried and many fail to notice that these parents are going down for the count.  Yet when we're talking about the parent of a 2nd grade child with autism or a 15-year-old with a learning disability, carrying is what it's really all about.

So if your life is touched by a parent who is struggling to carry it all, a little lift will help enormously.  They will continue to "carry you" (meaning their child), yet carrying them ... even for a brief time, will help them continue to put one foot in front of the other while lifting their child into the future.

They're "Hitting The Wall" -- Now What?

Virtually every day, children struggling is what keeps me awake late at night.  I wish all kids were succeeding in school and no parents faced the angst that comes with knowing that their child is not doing well.  But enough for my holiday wishes... Not enough, however, for the rallying cry that I make when kids are "hitting the wall" in school.  What's disturbing is that each academic year, I'm making the cry earlier and more frequently.  Yes, it's true that while not every child does well in every class, every grade, and every year, many children are indeed struggling in every class, every grade, and every year.  It's not the occasional struggle that's the problem, but rather, it's a pattern of struggling -- whether with academics, socially, or behaviorally -- that is the "call to arms" for parents to act.

For some kids, they hit the wall shortly after the school year begins.  For others, it's after the novelty of a new school year has faded and the expectations for performance become the norm.  And still for others, it's late winter/early spring when they can no longer compensate for the gaps that exist.  But no matter when it happens, a child hitting the wall is tantamount to the worst scene in a movie any parent could imagine seeing.

At this time of year, after school has been underway for several months, many children and teens are indeed "hitting the wall"... and hard.  Whether diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, ADD/ADHD, or not diagnosed yet at all, grades are plummeting if they were decent to begin with, homework is not being completed, teachers are expressing concerns, and the child is suffering.  So are the parents.

Trying to figure out what's happening and then what to do about it is truly overwhelming for most parents.  And once some of these initial questions are answered, the tough part begins -- working to figure out how to secure whatever services and supports the child needs and then monitoring whether improvements are occurring once services and supports are in place.  This is particularly hard for working parents when ongoing therapies, school meetings, and crisis calls fracture their work day.

So what should parents do when their child is either hitting the wall or has already hit it full force?   First (and I know this does not relate to all parents), step out of denial mode and into mobilize mode.  The longer you wait to figure out what's happening, the greater the likelihood that the interventions will be more extensive and longer in duration.  There is a reason advocates push for early intervention services -- the sooner the supports are implemented, the greater the possibility for progress.

Next, secure evaluations.  Whether through your school district or, ideally, privately, you must determine what is happening before any interventions can be put into place.  A comprehensive psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation would give you data and information targeting your child's educational programming and would indicate whether further specialized testing (e.g. speech or occupational therapy) is warranted.  The goal is to gather as much information as possible so you need to ignore the "I don't want my child labeled" trap and be ready and willing to take on whatever it is that the evaluation results show.

And a word about evaluations.  If the numbers read like football scores or a foreign language, the clinician who conducted the evaluation must explain them to you so ask.  Prepare yourself with questions; e.g. "What do the standard scores mean" or "Why is there a discrepancy between reading comprehension and word attack scores."  Before you discuss the evaluation report either with the school psychologist or your independent clinician, a copy of that report should look like a Christmas tree -- plenty of red and green markings that indicate everything that is confusing or unclear to you.

Then, if your child does not already have an IEP or 504, you need to convene your school team to discuss eligibility (another topic to be discussed later).  The key is after eligibility is confirmed, you want to develop an IEP that has measurable goals or a 504 that has accommodations that meet your child's specific needs.   And after these documents are created, the work of ensuring that implementation occurs begins so you must ensure that you receive ongoing communication to gauge progress.  None of this is easy but neither is watching your child in crisis.

No parent wants to know that their child is reading at a 4th Grade level when he/she is in 8th Grade.  No parent wants to know that their child is unable to have a reciprocal conversation with a peer.  No parent wants to know that their child spends more time in the nurse's office than in the classroom because he/she cannot sit still in class.  Yet all parents want their children to be successful in school.

I know all too well what it feels like when your child hits the wall.  It feels like a roller coaster ride that someone tossed you on when you weren't ready.  But as parents, we have the ability to pull it together, mobilize, and get things done.  When you were younger, didn't you think your parents could make anything happen?  Well now it's your turn to whip out the wand and start making magic happen.  It may not be a straight or simple path, but at least the twists and turns of that amusement ride will become a bit more familiar.